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Getting a Tax Extension

The IRS understands that some Americans are busy during tax season and may need more time to get their tax information together and filed. If you can't meet the typical April 15 deadline to file your federal income tax return, you can get an automatic six-month filing extension from the IRS. The extension will give you extra time to get your tax documents to the IRS and avoid a late filing penalty, but it does not extend the time you have to pay any tax due.

Estimate Your Tax Due

Taxpayers must accurately estimate any tax due when they request a federal extension. You will owe interest on any tax liability not paid by the April tax deadline, plus a late payment penalty if you have paid less than 90% of your total tax by that date. You may send a payment for the expected balance due, but doing so is not required to obtain the extension.

Automatic Tax Extension by Filing or Making a Payment

If you cannot file your tax return by the due date, you should be able to get an automatic six-month extension of time to file to avoid the failure-to-file penalty for not getting your return to the IRS by Tax Day. For example, if your return is due April 15, your tax filing deadline will be pushed back to Oct. 15.

You can get the automatic extension in two ways:

  1. Using IRS e-file (electronic filing)
  2. Filing a paper extension form

E-filing Options

There are two ways you can use e-file to get an extension of time to file:

  1. E-file and make a payment. You can get an automatic tax extension by paying part or all of your estimated tax due using the IRS' Direct Pay service, a credit card, or a debit card. You can do this by phone or over the internet. If you use this option, you should not file IRS Form 4868.
  2. Complete Form 4868, Application for Automatic Extension of Time to File U.S. Individual Income Tax Return, for use as a worksheet. If you think you may owe tax when you file your return, use Part II of the tax form to estimate your balance due. Use IRS free file to file your extension on the agency's website. Do not also send a paper Form 4868. You can use your tax software like TurboTax or a tax professional to file electronically. You will need to provide certain information from your tax return from the previous tax year.

Filing a Paper Form 4868

If you want to get your extension by filing a paper Form 4868, mail it to the address shown in the form instructions. To submit a tax payment with the form, make the check or money order payable to "United States Treasury." Write your Social Security number, daytime phone number, and the tax year, followed by "Form 4868," on your check or money order.

When to File Your Extended Return

You must request the automatic tax extension by the due date for your return. You can then file your extended return any time before the six-month extension period ends.

Taxpayers Living Outside the US

If you are a U.S. citizen or resident alien, you are given an automatic two-month extension to file and pay your taxes if, on April 15:

  • Your residence and your principal place of business or post of duty are located outside of the United States (including Puerto Rico)
  • You are in the military and on active duty outside of the United States (including Puerto Rico)

Taxpayers living abroad may also file for the standard automatic extension. But the IRS will only give them an additional four months to file. That means they will have the same Oct. 15 due date as domestic filers who received six-month extensions.

Active-duty military members serving in a combat zone or special operation have until 180 days after leaving to file, plus the number of days between when they entered the combat zone or special operation and the deadline. For example, if you are sent to a combat zone 60 days before the April 15 deadline, you have 180 days plus an additional 60 days to file after you exit the combat zone. This extension also applies to hospitalizations resulting from service in a combat zone or special operation.

File by Phone

You can file for an extension by phone anytime through April 15 (or the following business day, if on a weekend or holiday). The toll-free phone number is 1-888-796-1074. Use Form 4868 as a worksheet to prepare for the call, and have a copy of your previous year's federal tax return available.

The IRS will give you a confirmation number to verify that the extension request has been accepted. Put this confirmation number on your copy of Form 4868, and keep it for your records. Do not send the form to the IRS.

Paying by Phone or Computer

If you ask for a tax extension by phone or computer, you can also choose to pay any expected balance due by authorizing an electronic funds withdrawal from a checking or savings account. You will need the appropriate bank routing and account numbers. You must also provide the adjusted gross income amount from last year's federal income tax return to verify your identity.

Extension-Related Credit Card Payment

The IRS does not accept credit card or debit card payments directly, so you will need to use one of the card processors listed on the agency's website. The processor will charge you a convenience fee for the credit or debit card payment. See the instructions for Form 4868 for more information on how to make an extension-related electronic payment.

What if You Can't Pay?

If your return is complete, but you can't pay the tax due, do not request a tax extension. File your return on time, and pay as much as you can. If you are short on cash, you may be eligible to use the IRS free file program based on your income. The IRS will send you a bill or notice for your unpaid taxes.

Remember Your State Taxes

States that collect an income tax operate independently of the IRS, so if you can't file your state returns on time, you will need to make separate arrangements with your state tax authorities.

More Questions? Contact a Tax Lawyer

Not everyone needs to get an extension because they couldn't get their tax information together by the deadline. Sometimes you need an extension because you have questions about how to file a return that you haven't been able to resolve on your own. That's when you may want to contact a local tax attorney for help. A tax attorney is a skilled tax pro who can help resolve any tax issues you may be having so that you can get your return filed.

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